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First impressions are lasting

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By Johanne Bouchard EBS Business Columnist

In business and in life we must be mindful of how we project ourselves – particularly the first time we meet someone. Whether you’re on a first date; meeting a client for the first time; interviewing for a board position or job; or presenting to an audience, others will make decisions largely based on their observations in that first encounter.

These perceptions during that first meeting are made in less than five seconds – it’s actually closer to one-tenth of a second!

We live in a world where etiquette is often informal and fairly forgiving, but there are still deal breakers. Preparing yourself with essential tools for making a good first impression can pay dividends in the long term. Here are some basics to consider:

A firm handshake. Your handshake establishes your level of confidence, or lack thereof. A hesitant or sweaty handshake can be an immediate turnoff. If the recipient is quick to judge, they may never gain trust in you. Women and men of all ages must learn how to give confident handshakes.

Hands speak volumes. Clean hands and nails express respect for those with whom you come in physical contact with, and indicate you have pride in maintaining your appearance. More subtly, clean hands and nails convey that you’re meticulous and won’t overlook details.

Good eye contact. Looking someone directly in the eyes expresses both your own confidence and your respect for, and interest in, the other person. Lack of proper eye contact expresses the opposite, and may suggest that you can’t effectively lead, influence or trust others. Conversely, unbreakable eye contact can be unsettling, so avoid staring with fixation and look for a happy medium.

A genuine smile. In our culture, smiling exhibits warmth and welcomes others to engage with you. A genuine smile – not a grin or an artificial smile – says you are happy to meet someone. A warm and confident smile puts others at ease, and science suggests that smiling can encourage your own happiness, even if you don’t feel that way.

A powerful stance. In a 2013 article, The New York Times’ Kate Murphy wrote, “Striking a commanding pose, whether you are in a sparkling gown or frayed jeans, can change how you perceive yourself, which ultimately influences how you are perceived by others.” Don’t be afraid to carry yourself with confidence and stand at your full height. You’ll project that you’re self-assured, and fully accountable for who you are.

In addition to these basic tools that make good first impressions, here are some of my absolute no-no’s: chewing gum; playing with or having messy hair; food between your teeth; visible runs in your nylons or holes in your pants; stains that predate the meeting; showing too much chest – for both men and women; bad breath; and being preoccupied with your phone.

Present yourself authentically and take each opportunity to make a positive, lasting impression. Think about how you wish to be remembered, and don’t forget that each time you meet someone you’re being evaluated.

Johanne Bouchard, a former high-tech marketing executive, is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. Visit to learn more or download her recently published eBooks “Board Composition” and “Board Basics.”

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